Sunday, January 8, 2012

North Carolina Decoys, Briefly

Befpre I moved to North Carolina, I had never duck hunted. In fact, I thought it was as simple and boring as watching ducks in the park. I also thought that plastic decoys were a gimmick that would never fool a duck. I sold myself and the decoys short, apparently. Soon upon arriving here, I tripped upon The Bird Store, a decoy collector's dream in KDH, North Carolina. At first, I liked the cheap crap, so I bought it. My first bird was a papier mache black duck, made by Ari-Duck, I believe. I've since shed that one. I then bought "contemporary antique" decoys...new birds, made to look old. They're good for your wife and girlfriend to decorate with but are generally unhuntable and unvaluable, other than as folk art that will need an occassional dusting. Nevertheless, in my journeys as a public land freelancer, I've encountered some people with wonderful decoys...all carved by themselves. I've even hunted over an all wood spread of 50 decoys. It was lethal for ducks. Three years ago, when Herter's quit making decoys, Iquickly began acquiring them, just as a collector would have...but I hunt over them. Herters, though, are not north Carolina standards. I'm proud of them, though, and I'll have 5 dozen divers to pass on to my child. By then, I'm certain duck hunting will be illegal, though. Now, my friends, I am in hot pursuit of reallly old North Carolina decoys...here's my current wishlist...

Ned Burgess: Ned's probably the most famous of the Curritcuk Sound carvers. His decoys have great form, and many other imitators. Ned Carved in the 1900's, when battery gunning was all the rage...his decoys are sizeable, but better than crude. Other carvers of the time, like Burgess, probably hacked their decoys out of old fenceposts and sail masts...but Ned kept carving. Smooth lines and high heads mark his birds. I'm looking for a redhead...good luck to that.

Lee Dudley, arguably the most famous of all North Carolina carvers lived during the time of the civil war. A knotts Island carver, his decoys were considered small by most standards. His ruddy ducks are bulbous, include great lines, and are simply beautiful. To own a Dudley, you'd have to shell out about $400 for the least desirable ones. He had brothers, too, that carved - but he was easily the best of the bunch. I'd take one of his ruddy ducks, please...

Mitchell Fulcher probably rarely traveled to the Outer Banks. Instead, he carved his birds for the milfoil flats of Downeast Carterest County. I think he was from Stacy or Harker's Island...either way, they  didn't have cable tv then, or now. His birds are incredibly rare. Especially complete birds. Fulcher was incredibly tedious when creating birds, all the way to the rigging. He was noted for his attention to detail, but the block style paint that the  area is noted for was nothing extraordinary. His carved heads were beautiful, too. Some of his birds are considered priceless. If you come across a Mitchell Fulcher black duck, let me know!

Anyway, if you want to learn more about North Carolina decoys, I'dd like to recommend Kroghie Andresen's "Gunnin' Birds". He has  the largest collection of north Carolina decoys...about 1100, I think. If Kroghie wants, Kroghie gets. His book is well written, accurate, and even interesting...and talking about  wood carving and old, dead people can be a tough subject. Anyway, hunting decoys is harder than hunting ducks...so good luck!

Also - there are still some great carvers turning out beautiful decoys in Carteret County. To connect with these decoys and their carvers, check out the Core Sound Decoy Carver's Guild.

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